Northwood Norwegians extend the holiday to Saturday with annual smorgasbordYes, Friday is May 17 — Syttende mai, Norway’s Constitution Day, celebrated there and throughout Norwegian America with flag-waving, singing and the consumption of baked goods — but the practical Norwegians of Northwood have scheduled their annual lefse, rommegraut and sweet-soup fest for the weekend.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
NORTHWOOD, N.D. — For 21 years now, the plentiful and proud Norwegians of Northwood have turned to Ruth Pedersen to produce dozens of buttery sandbakkels for the town’s annual Syttende mai observance.
These crumbly, almond-infused “sand tarts” baked in fluted tins are primarily a Yuletide tradition, actually, one dating to the 1800s in the old country, but no matter. To people who cannot remember time before sandbakkels, there is but one truth: Make them, and they will pay.
Don’t panic. Yes, Friday is May 17 — Syttende mai, Norway’s Constitution Day, celebrated there and throughout Norwegian America with flag-waving, singing and the consumption of baked goods — but the practical Norwegians of Northwood have scheduled their annual lefse, rommegraut and sweet-soup fest for the weekend — Saturday afternoon — so you have time.
Pedersen is Scottish on her mother’s side. Margaret Geddes came from East Grand Forks to teach school in Northwood and found herself surrounded.
“She’d pick up the party-line phone and usually hear someone speaking Norwegian,” her daughter said.
Margaret adjusted, marrying a Norwegian. So has Ruth.
“I’m half Scottish and half Norwegian,” she said. “But living in this community, the Norwegian half has become … (pause) … dominant.”
Swedes in the region will understand.
All are welcome at the Norwegian Smorgasbord from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Northwood Evangelical Lutheran Church. The cost is $10 or $5 for children under 12. A display and sale of handmade quilts is also part of the annual event, put on by the women of the church.
But back to the sandbakkels, or sandbakkelse to use the Norwegian spelling:
Pedersen uses her paternal grandmother’s baking tins and recipe, which likely came from Norway. Her grandmother’s name was Christine, and she was born in Iowa to immigrant parents.
“Her parents were pioneers here,” Pedersen said. “They came from the Sognefjord area of Norway to Iowa, then homesteaded west of Northwood in about 1883.”
Because it’s Syttende mai, people will speak their names on the prairie Friday: Anfin and Turi Qualheim.
Christine’s recipe is a simple one, her granddaughter said: To make about four dozen, blend a cup of butter with a cup of sugar, mix in an egg, a half teaspoon of almond extract and about 2½ cups of sifted flour. Drop a chunk of dough the size of a walnut into a tin and work it up the sides until it is almost see-through thin.
“This is where your thumbs get tired,” Pedersen said, working a sandbakkel as if she were texting a frantic call for help.
Bake at 375 degrees for about eight minutes. Some recipes say to let the top edges brown just a bit. Others say don’t.
Cool, tap the tarts out of the tins and hope at least one breaks so you can say, “Well, we might as well try that one now to make sure the oven time is right.”
Filling, no filling?
Kathleen Stokker, author of “Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land,” published in 2001 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press, notes that a recipe for sandbakkelse appeared in a Norwegian cookbook as early as 1845.
The treat caught on first with the well-to-do but did not become widely familiar until later in the 19th century. Unlike krumkake, that other Christmas goodie savored by descendants of the immigrants, sandbakkelse required fine flour. In rustic old Norway, that wasn’t so readily available.
And just as fistfights have broken out over whether lefse should be sugared as well as buttered, there is debate over whether Norwegian sandbakkelse require filling, such as whipped cream, berries or jam.
“You could put ice cream and all that stuff in,” Pedersen said, somewhat dismissively, “but they’re harder to eat that way.” And purists will argue that you’ll lose the distinctive almond flavor.
She and her husband, Willard, live in town now, but she grew up on the farm a great-great-grandfather, Knut Nelson, homesteaded just east of Northwood. Her son, Scott, and grandson Bryan farm it now.
She has been to Norway once, on a group tour to Sognefjord where the guide pointed out farms where this family or that from Northwood originated, often a lone teenager or young couple setting off on a great adventure.
“I think of what it must have been like for those parents who stayed behind,” she said, “to say goodbye to their 17-year-old daughter who was getting married and going to America.”
They often were going with little more than some clothes, a few household items, an uncle’s address in America and a Bible … and maybe a recipe or two for when there was celebrating and remembering to be done.
Call Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1102; or send email to email@example.com.